For young Americans, abusing prescription ADHD medications like Ritalin and Adderall begins at an earlier age than previously thought, a new University of Michigan study has found.
According to U.S. News and World Report, the study reveals that peak abuse of these drugs without a prescription takes place between the ages of 16 and 19, not during the typical college years, as it’s long been believed. This suggests that efforts to prevent misuse of ADHD drugs should begin in middle school.
“We need to have a realistic understanding of when young people are beginning to experiment with stimulants, so we can prevent them from misusing for the first time,” said study author Elizabeth Austic, a postdoctoral fellow at the university’s Injury Center. “To prevent someone from using for the first time is often more cost-efficient and effective than trying to intervene once they have done it, whether a few times or for years.”
The study, which looked at data on more than 240,000 people ages 12 to 21, also found that females are more likely to misuse prescription diet pills, while males more commonly abuse Adderall.
Adderall, a CNS stimulant, is relatively new compared to Ritalin — Shire Pharmaceuticals first released the drug in an instant-release form in 1996. While people typically take these drugs without a prescription in an effort to be more productive or focused, there are negative consequences to abusing Adderall and Ritalin. Misusing either of these drugs has been linked with anxiety, aggressive behaviors, seizures and hallucinations.
Abusing ADHD drugs at a young age can carry on well into adulthood. In fact, the number of U.S. workers who use ADHD drugs to get ahead is on the rise across a large number of professions, a recent New York Times article revealed. For these people, drug abuse isn’t a way to get high — it’s often the only way to get hired.
“You’d see addiction in students, but it was pretty rare to see it in an adult,” said Dr. Kimberly Dennis, medical director of Chicago-area substance abuse treatment center Timberline Knolls. “We are definitely seeing more than one year ago, more than two years ago, especially in the age range of 25 to 45.”
From 2005 to 2011, the number of emergency room visits stemming from non-medical use of prescription stimulants among adults aged 18 to 34 tripled, reaching nearly 23,000, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has found.
It’s one of the many sad realities facing workers today — if you don’t use Adderall to heighten your productivity and focus, someone else will. And they, unlike you, are going to be the ones who get ahead.